Investigating the Multiple Values of the Meadows

What Matters and Who Matters in Green Space Design, by Amelia Holmes
Over the past few months, as part of my dissertation for my Ecological Economics Master’s Programme, I have been planning and carrying out research on the Meadows – what it means to people, what it provides nature, and how it brings us all together as a community.
In this project I want to understand what matters to people who have an active interest in the Meadows, including those who organise the volunteering in the community garden, exercise and sports groups, cultural groups and those who participate in mindful and religious practices there. I also want to investigate how we might form shared visions and future prospects for the Meadows.
Traditionally, urban parks have been seen through quite an anthropocentric lens and designed as such. This means many studies of greenspaces tend to focus on benefits to humans, such as physical health, mental health and social interaction. All of these are valid and important considerations to use as a guide for green space design and management.
But what is becoming increasingly apparent, particularly with the increased dialogue in policy around re-wilding, biodiversity, and nature-based solutions, is the need to re-assess how we engage with and talk about nature in urban design. So, I placed particularly emphasis on nature in my interview questions, as well as other often neglected values such as social values and community cohesion. Particularly, we talk about what we perceive about other species we share the park with, and what these species might find safe and appealing about our beloved Meadows that they call home. Finally, we discuss what an ideal, utopic version of the Meadows would look like and why – what would be different and what is perfect just the way it is?
I am excited to continue having these discussions about urban green space and learning about the rich diversity of activities that take place in the Meadows, as well as creating space to talk about our relationship to the non-human world. And I am very glad to be meeting inspiring people and making friends along the way!

Photo courtesy of John Lanigan

Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients (serves 4)

⦁ 2tbsp butter, margarine or olive oil
⦁ 2 onions
⦁ 450 g butternut squash peeled, seeded and cubed
⦁ 225g potatoes, cubed
⦁ 1.2 liters water
⦁ 1 tsp paprika 
⦁ Salt and Pepper (to taste)
⦁ 120 ml cream (optional)
⦁ 2 tbsp chopped chives (optional)

Preparation

– Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until soft and brownish.
– Blend until smooth the squash, potatoes and paprika in a blender or processor with some of the water and add the brownish onions.
– Bring to the boil. Turn off the heat, stir in the cream if using, cover the pan and leave it like that for about 20 minutes before you serve it.
– Add the chopped chives, salt and pepper,  stir in just before serving and garnish with a few whole chives.

Refugee Festival

The community garden looks lovely in June, perfect for participating in the Refugee Festival, which celebrates diversity and New Scots. This year we offered visitors the opportunity to make sun prints of leaves and flowers that they picked in the garden… And we listened to Agatha telling African stories. Gentle moments of shared pleasure, on a windy afternoon. Earlier, Tom and Ivy had planted four precious sunflowers grown from Ukrainian seeds. They dug deep holes, packed compost around the roots, and surrounded each plant with a palisade of twigs, to keep it safe. A metaphor for our event: refugees welcome here!

Congratulations! Our team has been selected to receive the Inspiring Volunteer Award!

Summer 2022 brought us great news! On June 1st Volunteer Edinburgh celebrated the amazing contribution that volunteers make at their annual Inspiring Volunteer Awards ceremony at the City Chambers and Meadows Community Garden got the Inspiring Volunteer Awards for outstanding volunteering in the Team category!

Robert Aldridge, Rt. Hon. Lord Provost of The City of Edinburgh honoured dedicated volunteer teams and individuals who gave their time, energy and commitment to the people of Edinburgh.
The Meadows Community Garden appointed two volunteers to attend the ceremony – Bela Hamid and Bibigul Makazhanova.

Thank you to everyone who rolled up their sleeves and took rotas, planted out bedding, weeded and watered the garden, organised events, raised funds, encouraged and guided children, contributed seedlings, and generously gave your valuable time, ideas and expertise.
We could not have done it without you!

#VolunteersWeek2022 is a great time to say a massive ‘Thanks’ to everyone who has contributed so much to our garden and continues to make a huge difference in our community garden!

We are so grateful for all the amazing work put in by our fabulous volunteers. We are continually inspired by your commitment and effort! BIG THANKS! ♥️💚❤️💚
And see you on Saturday as usual! 🤗

Refugee Festival

Last year, we held a picnic at the community garden for Syrian families. This year, we’re running a drop-in event, on 18 June from 12noon to 4pm. Drop in to create a cyanotype artwork and listen to a story while it cures in the sun. Simple! We welcome you and your stories to the garden, which is looking lovely. See you there!

Tiny wildflowers

A big thank you to our energetic visitors who laid a path, cut a trench, and sowed dozens of seeds and wildflower plugs in the community garden and wildflower plots. Each sowing has its label so you can follow the progress of a particular wildflower. Like other flowers, they need water and care. You can be sure they are loving this wet weather!

In praise of blossom

This May, all the apple trees in our wee orchard have blossom. Even our crabapple has put out a fine show, and the new trees are snowy white too. Looking at the trees, one notes gradations of pink in among the white petals. Some trees put out pink buds which open into white flowers, and some blossom is tinged with pink… See for yourselves!

Pea Soup

Ingredients:

2 potatoes 

1 onion

1 garlic clove

1 small bell pepper

1 carrot

2 cup peas

Optional: 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation:

In a blender, place 2 chopped potatoes, 1 chopped onion, 1 garlic clove, chopped bell pepper, 1 sliced carrot, 2 cups peas, and some water. Blend, add more water until it has the consistency of cream soup. You can add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Salt to taste.

Cook over moderate heat, turn off as soon as it starts to boil.

Suggestion: Serve with a couple of basil leaves, grated cheese, and / or cream.

Sowing seeds

These April days have alternated between warm and sunny, and cold and windy. So cold that we’re grateful our seedlings can huddle in their coldframe… So warm that we’ve popped potatoes in the ground, though my allotment neighbour would wait until the ground was warm enough to sit on with his trousers down, before his tatties went in.

On Saturday, we welcomed a bunch of students to the garden on a morning that was both cold and sunny. Gardening jobs were followed by a picnic, then it was time to sow plugs. Hannah from the Seed Library turned up on her bike, bearing wildflower seeds, and the students spent a joyful hour sowing. Seeds of hope, and community, and solidarity.

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.’

The art of reusing

Working for an eco cleaning company (Ecover + method) means I’ve learnt a lot about reusing, refilling and recycling in the past few years. I try to apply this in all aspects of life. Volunteering for the Meadows community garden has been a very rewarding experience (see the recent blog post Social Gardening by one of my fellows, which wonderfully explains this). And I’ve also come to realise there are all sorts of ways a garden can lead you to reuse, refill and recycle!

Here are a few tips and ideas on what I’ve noticed:

  • Harvesting seeds in Autumn to plant them in Spring; we’ve collected Marigold, Yarrow, Sunflower seeds and planted some already which are now sprouting!
  • Re-using all sorts of containers like milk bottles to bring water to the garden in those rare rainless weeks in Edinburgh (we don’t have a water point yet close to the garden which is proving tricky!)
  • Planting seedlings in old egg boxes
  • Making barriers for our compost pit and other garden areas from fallen branches
See the barrier at the forefront? It’s all from branches from the Meadows!
  • Making bouquets from unusual wild flowers but also dried flowers

Another project that “germinated” from my volunteering to the community garden was to use plants for my wedding in June instead of cut flowers. Some of the volunteers are kindly helping with planting seeds from scratch and I am hoping I will have all sorts of wildflowers to put on tables and around the venue. After the wedding, the pots would be returned to the volunteers to be planted in their garden or at the community garden. A nice reminder of what should be a beautiful day!

The type of plant pots I hope to put on wedding tables!

I hope this inspires you to look at some areas in your life where you could reuse, refill, recycle.

If you’re not sure where your nearest refilling station is (whether a water fountain, a cafe for filling your cup or a shop for your laundry liquid), check the free City to Sea app. This environmental organisation do fantastic work to map out all refill stations in the UK and change our behaviour on plastic! Check their blog as well to get more eco tips on plastic free living.

The Soil Crisis #SaveSoil

‘Can we restore global soil health in ten years? Do we have any choice?’, asks John Crawford, a Professor of Strategy and Technology at the University of Glasgow, in his most recent article on the topic of soil degradation. As a keen newcomer to the meadows community garden volunteer team, my concerns for this particular issue and its impacts on the environment have given me a new-found appreciation for working with soil.

Based on key environmental reports on the current state of agricultural soil health, it seems that there is a desperate need today to recognise the huge value of improved land management. It is also clear from these reports that it is vital we enhance institutional capacity and knowledge in the area, together with national policy, economic, legislative and regulatory frameworks. In addition to the community garden, I have also recently started volunteering for the #SaveSoil campaign initiated by Conscious Planet, and supported by the United Nation Commission to Combat Desertification. The campaign’s international effort intends to turn the science behind soil degradation into a social movement, as a means of encouraging policymakers to make soil regeneration a priority. Founder of the initiative Sadhguru, or Jaggi Vasudev, states in a recent Guardian interview that ‘without citizens making a big statement, no government is going to make long-term investments’.

On the 21st of March (yesterday), Sadhguru set off on a 100 day lone motorcycle trip as a means of raising the necessary awareness around such issues. Starting in London, and finishing at the Cauvery basin in Southern India, he will be meeting with government officials in various countries along the way. With 14 countries, including Barbados, Guyana and Dominica, having already signed memorandum of understanding’s in collaboration with the campaign to secure soil health globally, the movement seeks for a further 193 UN member states to collectively engage similarly, as he rides through Europe. All the while, volunteers across the world are working towards bringing awareness to local communities, and getting people talking about these vital issues.

Considering the positive impact of grassroot community-based action, it seems evermore essential that such movements get the support they need. As Deborah Long from Scottish Environmental LINK stated in a recent talk on upcoming COP15, the more people talk about these current issues, the more likely action will happen. For more information, head to savesoil.org.

It’s the planting season

New hedges for wildlife has been the theme for the last couple of Saturdays at the community garden on the Meadows. With the kind support of Edinburgh City Council and the free hedging pack from the Woodland Trust we have planted two short sections of hedges. Holly, hazel, dog rose, viburnum and some other native hedge plants have been planted by our volunteers. Hedges are important for wildlife, providing shelter and food for birds, and will protect the garden from windy weather once they grow. We need to keep the hedges watered, so please bring some water when you visit the Meadows and give them a drink. The plants are still small and will need our help to grow and prosper in the future.

Volunteers planting the new hedge

Social gardening

When I first moved to Edinburgh, it was in the middle of lockdown and I knew only a few people. Walking across the Meadows, I saw the sign about gardening. All I had to do was turn up on a Saturday (preferably wearing boots as it gets muddy) and do as much or as little as I wanted, all tools provided. And that in a nutshell is what goes on. But it’s actually so much more!

People of all ages and nationalities and backgrounds come to the garden. Some come once, some weekly, some as and when they are free. Everyone is welcome! What is particularly wonderful, is that some folk come for the chat and never pick up a tool; some don’t talk much and work the whole time and others do a bit of both.

Reasons for attending are varied: some to learn about gardening, some just to be outdoors, or others to practice English. Students sometimes want to get away from the student bubble or the elderly prefer to be away from their age group to mix with others and the gardening provides just that. Families bring their children to explore nature or to play by random digging. People may appear as a way to deal with mental health issues, or to avoid isolation. And others meet friends, or make new ones. It actually doesn’t matter why people are at the garden and we don’t ask: we have a lot of fun, chatting and discussing all sorts of things plus growing some vegetables and flowers.

This isn’t just a garden on the Meadows but it is also a community. We go apple picking together, had poetry and mulled wine at Christmas, are planting flowers for a June wedding, join other garden events or go for a coffee after a session on a Saturday with whoever wants to…. It’s been a real bonus for me as a newcomer in Edinburgh and was and is, something joyful to do on a Saturday morning. See you there!

Christmas party 2021

Paraguayan Soup (Sopa paraguaya)

This is a traditional dish from the North-East of Argentina and Paraguay. Although it is named  soup, it is not a liquid but a corn bread with onions and cheese. 
It is my chosen dish to bring to potlucks, picnics or any kind of social event. It is easy to prepare and has great acceptance.

Ingredients:
– 1/2 cup of flour (plain flour, not self-raising, preferably) 
– 1 1/2 cup of cornmeal 
– 2 eggs
– 1 chopped onion
– 1 cup grated or chopped cheese (cheddar or similar)
– 1 can creamed corn or you can blend sweet corn in the blender
– Milk (enough to get a creamy consistency, similar to cake mix)
– Salt (to taste)

Preparation:
Fry the onions until they turn slightly brown. Mix in a bowl all the ingredients and add the milk until a creamy consistency, grease a pyrex or square oven pan so the mix doesn’t stick to the walls once cooked. Pour the mix into the pan or pyrex. Add grated cheese on top. Cook for 20′-30′ at 180ºC-200ºC.

Divide into portions and enjoy!

Note: It can be eaten hot or cold, as a main dish or a snack.

Birds and biodiversity in the Meadows

The Meadows are a mixture of mature trees and short grassland. This isn’t the obvious place to see many birds, but they are around. The mature trees provide a feeding area for different birds. Walking down Middle Meadow Walk last week I saw a tree creeper looking for food on one of the old elms. I could hear a greater spotted woodpecker calling in the treetops. You can see thrushes in the spring, guarding their territory by the community garden and there are always the inquisitive jackdaws hopping around looking for dropped food. It will be exciting to see what effect the new bird boxes will make in improving the great tit and blue tit population. What we miss and need more of, in the Meadows, are scrub and hedge areas. Birds need foraging areas for food and shelter . Hedge plants like hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel and guelder rose can provide berries in the autumn and places to nest for blackbirds. Robins and Wrens like nooks and crannies to look for food and avoid predators. We will be planting a small hedge in the community garden this winter, but we do need more wild areas for birds to live and nest in on the Meadows.

Providing cover for birds by fencing a small grove

Bird boxes installed

21 bird boxes have now been installed across the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links by a group of volunteers on behalf of FOMBL. They are a mix of Blue Tit and Great Tit boxes, and each box has a nest box protection plate. They’ve been installed on or near mature trees with nearby shrub cover, and will be checked regularly and maintained annually. There’s a couple near the community garden that we can keep an eye on! Get in touch with Neill Walker for info about this grand project: secretary@fombl.org.uk

Building bird boxes

As I write this, on Sunday 13th Feb, it is rain that is hammering down across Edinburgh but yesterday, we at the community garden, were the ones doing all the hammering….

Edinburgh University’s Ornithological Society held a workshop where we constructed our own bird boxes! They provided us with pre-cut boxes and supervised as we hammered them together. It was quite satisfying.

Here’s one I built for blue tits; it will be put up in a friend’s garden next week.

Bird friendly

We are always happy to welcome birds and bird friendly activities at the community garden: right from the start, we planted a bed with berries for birds to enjoy! Then we helped set up a grove, to provide cover for birds to feed and nest. Now, we are welcoming the Edinburgh Uni Bird Soc group to run a nesting box building session. Join us on Saturday 12 February at 11 for a fun time hammering and learning about songbirds. These bird photos are by treesmeadows.blogspot.co.uk and the postcards will also be available… in aid of FOMBL.

The Wondrous World of Plants

Last Spring and Summer, we had an abundance of flowers sprouting up across the community garden. Everyday there were more and more plants, and it was incredible to see them popping up all over the place. I loved taking photos of the flowers, and trying to capture the different colours, textures and shapes.

I became very keen to learn more about the plants growing in the garden. I soon discovered that many of the herbs and flowers were edible and even had medicinal purposes.

We had nasturtiums growing around the apple trees in the little orchard. They have brightly coloured flowers and big round leaves. They are very pretty to look at, but that’s not all! The entire plant is edible, and the leaves and flowers contain many beneficial nutrients such as vitamin C, iron and manganese. Nasturtiums are used in traditional medicine to treat a range of illnesses, such as colds and infections. They also provide a source of food (nectar) to various insects and birds.

Plants are really amazing, and I would say, underrated. They provide so much to us, wildlife and the planet. 

Plants create habitats, improve air quality, provide food, maintain soil quality (so we can grow food!), absorb CO2 and contribute to improved wellbeing by creating green spaces for people. Last but not least, many drugs (e.g. aspirin) are derived from plants.

There are about 370,000 flowering plants on Earth. But only about 50% of those plants have been properly studied. Imagine what new discoveries we will make… But we have to protect plants in order to do that.

The garden is a wonderful place to visit. I spent many summer evenings admiring the plants and watching bees and butterflies hurriedly gathering nectar before the sun went down.

So next time you’re out, why not pop by the community garden and see what wonderful plants are growing. You never know what you’ll find…

Sketching in the garden

“Garden Sketching” is a free weekly event based at the Meadows Community Garden, where everyone is welcome to try their hand at drawing various plants. I conceived the project while volunteering at the garden and promoting it on social media.

The garden itself was established in the middle of the Meadows six years ago by a group of activists, who were committed to make Edinburgh streets greener. Since then, the garden has attracted diverse participants: experienced and beginner gardeners, families, students and retired people. I started volunteering there at the beginning of the summer of 2021. Together with my wee daughter, we enjoyed planting flowers, vegetables, berries and doing basic chores throughout the summer.

As a graphic designer and someone named Bibigul (Kazakh for the queen of flowers), I always marvelled at the perfection of nature’s design. Thus, I enjoyed not only gardening activities but also the beauty of the plants: unique shapes and fabrics, and, of course, magnificent colours. As I made a couple of sketches, it dawned on me that the fellow gardeners might want to draw as well. So, I conducted a survey among the followers of the garden’s Instagram account and got a few positive responses. It turned out that some people specifically wanted to draw outdoors because of the pandemic, while others were just keen to start sketching anywhere. We agreed upon a weekly time slot and set about our collective creativity sessions.

​Edinburgh College of Art students and Freya Wilson

So far, I have organized more than 10 sessions, with the most populous one gathering 15 people, from 3 to 68 years old! Now there is a core community of 7-10 regular sketchers, who have developed a “creative habit” and a keen eye on ever-changing appearance of the plants, as some of them bloom, while others fade. To keep the sessions more interactive I offer up to 10 tasks to encourage people to try different techniques and move among plants. To celebrate our creative effort, we exhibited artworks and sketches during Environment Day and Edinburgh Climate Festival.

As the pandemic has severed our connection to both fellow human beings and nature, Garden Sketching became a place to restore and enjoy both.
I am delighted to see how creativity and love of nature became a bonding power for a small local community. I take great pride in these results and hope to replicate them elsewhere. I would be happy if people across Edinburgh start sketching sessions at their local community gardens next summer.

Wherever we are, we can transform a green space into a community!

Sincerely yours,
Bibigul Makazhanova


Photo credit: Diego Martina www.diegomartina.com

GLiN project

With a few other community garden members, we embarked on the Grow and learn in nature (GLiN) project in March 2021.  This is  “a project based award to help make your outdoor space more nature friendly” and it is run by the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society (RCHS).

The project is defined by its setting and recording of progress and covers 4 broad sections; at least one activity has to be completed from each section and at least 30 hours of GLiN activities are carried out.

The 4 main sections are Biodiversity & nature, Soil health, Plant care and Propagating plants beneficial to nature with a number of possible activities to choose from.  We like the range of activities and the Horticultural Society can give pointers where necessary as to where you can take in your garden work. 

We grew a few things in the garden starting from seedling plant pots on the window sill, and either transfer them to pots or straight to the ground soil, topped up with peat-free compost.  We grew radishes, carrots, cucumber and some flowers.  We had small successes and a few failures (the broccoli and lettuce, for example) but we have learned along the way.

We also adapted, built and installed trellises, a bird bath and an insect hotel for biodiversity.

One of a pair on either side of the footpath.
The insect hotel made from an old bird feeder.

We have started the final part of the project, which was installing a plant bed in our back, common garden.  This involved loosening the soil and laying cardboard over a patch of ground and leaving it over the winter. We hope to take the next steps on this in Spring.

There are still lots for us to learn and we’re pleased to see some results from our efforts.  It’s been a very interesting experience and we’ve learnt more about gardens and nature and the close links between the two. If you are interested in doing a GLiN project, come to the Meadows community garden or you can get in touch with Sarah or contact directly with the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society.

Saving the Bees

At the beginning of the winter season a volunteer had found a bumble bee that hadn’t burrowed yet for the winter. With it being a milder beginning to the winter overall this could have been confusing for the bumble bees in Edinburgh.

Typically bumble bees will hibernate in the winter months where they’ll burrow into soft earth, logs or stones. To help the bee out we attempted to recreate this behaviour in the garden. We reused an old milk carton to act as a structure to then insulate with soil in one of the green raised beds. Once created we scooped the bee onto a popsicle stick and placed it in the milk carton. Later on we added some stones around the front to break the heavy winds that occurred that day.

The garden is a great place for ad hoc projects like this one. Whether it’s just stopping by to sow a run of seeds or a quick chat with one of our Saturday volunteers, there’s something for everyone.

Say hello to our many bee friends in the summertime!